Politics, Religion Й And All-Star Games

Several issues ago, I wrote a column in PRB on how ridiculous I thought it was to have All-Star teams for 5-year-olds.

After receiving hundreds of e-mails--in favor and against--clearly All-Stars rank right up there with politics and religion when it comes to topics that produce some of the strongest opinions.

As another season of baseball approaches, or perhaps is already underway, it’s time to take one more look at All-Stars--this time from your perspective.

Below is a sampling of the responses I received, both in support and against All-Stars, as well as my comments.

Both Sides Of The Coin

“I would agree that All-Star games below 8 years old do not make much sense; however, at the older levels I believe they serve a wonderful purpose. With my own children, I have kids who never were All-Stars, and I have one who has been one every season he's played, so I've experienced both sides of the issue. All-Star games are, in the vast majority of cases, a reward for hard work and excellence. All schools that I know of identify gifted students and provide extra opportunities and encouragement for those high achievers to further excel and explore new academic heights. All-Star games are simply the athletic equivalent of educational gifted programs.”

--Erik, California

You’re right, Erik, about schools identifying those gifted students, and it’s great that they do. However, what schools don’t do is tell the rest of the students who aren’t as gifted to go home and find something else to do.

Reward Those Who Excel

“Why stop at All-Star games? Why not grades? I, for one, found it far more discouraging to receive a bad grade than to not be selected for an All-Star game. I was never selected, and it was never a "dagger" into my self-esteem. There is nothing wrong with reward for achievement. Little League is all about learning the game and sportsmanship, but it's also about competition and perseverance, winning and losing and how to deal with adversity. These are very important life lessons.”

Joe, New York

That’s right, Joe, these are key life lessons for kids--those over the age of 10--who actually understand the demands that sports require. Before that age, it should be all about finding out about sports and whether you even like playing them. Most importantly, it should be all about FUN. All kids want to go out and play, and denying them the opportunity to play--because of All-Star selections--is not fair to the average kid.

Join The Fight

“I just read your February 2008 article, “Bench All-Star Games.” I am a city manager in a small town in North Carolina and the parent of children that participate in youth sports. This is, without a doubt, one of the best articles I have ever read, and I agree with your thoughts 100 percent on this issue. I have argued for years for banning All-Stars, in an effort to prolong the entire season for more kids to have the opportunity to play longer, but have found very little support. I would be curious as to the overall reaction you received and just wanted you to know I agree with you completely on this subject.”

Jeff, North Carolina

Jeff, you’ll be interested to know that when close to 100 recreation professionals developed the National Standards for Youth Sports, there was nearly unanimous agreement that All-Star games should not be held below the age of 10. Why did this group feel so strongly? Because they are recreation professionals who see everyday the fallacies of having young children selected for these teams. They aren’t the parents who are too caught up in their own egos of seeing their child chosen for an All-Star team.

Tough Luck

“You are raising a generation of kids that will never find their true talent, won’t understand what it means to work hard for the award, and they won't be ready when life really throws them a curve ball and they work for someone like me, and I won't pamper them and tell them that they did a good job when they s---. I would attempt to improve and develop them. If it doesn't work out in a reasonable amount of time, they can expect a pink slip. And I guess I can expect a visit from their mother telling me how their boy is a winner and a good kid and I shouldn't fire him because he’s the best.”

Doug, Maryland

I hate to tell you, Doug, but I think the mother is right. This is a perfect example of how adults apply things that happen to them in their life to their youth sports experience. I think she wanted her kid--who just recently learned to tie his shoes and was never taught any skills before you got a hold of him--to learn how to catch, throw, or kick; not to tell him that he s---- because he’s not bustin’ his butt for you in a game played the same way it’s played at the Major League level. He’s a kid!

The Luck Of The Draw

“I fully agree that at the age of 5 the difference between the better players and the rest is mostly down to who won the genetic lottery rather than the result of determination and hard work. There are no life lessons to be learned by having All-Star games for 5-year-olds, other than to discourage the kids who weren't selected. There’s no way that can be a constructive experience.”

Scott, California

Scott, you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the “genetic lottery” because most people don’t realize this. A 10-year-old child might have matured early, therefore possessing the size, strength and speed of a 14-year-old. Hard work, perseverance, discipline, loyalty, etc., have nothing to do with the selection process. Don’t believe me? Check out the All-Star team in your community this year, and you’ll see what I mean.

In organized sports, I believe that there are early-maturing kids with amazing talent who want to improve. These are the kids who will go out to a ball field or court early on a Saturday morning and get yelled at by their moms to get in the house after playing for 15 hours straight. These kids don’t like sports--they LOVE sports! So where do we give these kids a chance to show off their talents and reach the highest level of their sport skills? Today, there are travel teams, where kids, usually older than 10, travel from coast to coast and play against kids of their own ability. Travel teams offer the highest level of competition. So, hey, if this is what the parents and kids want, then so be it.

As for the die-hard All-star advocates out there for kids under age 10, let’s hope they look forward to getting their “gifted” kid on a travel team, and forget about All-star teams, and in the end everyone--including me--might be happy.

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of “Why Johnny Hates Sports,” which is available on Amazon.com. He can be reached via e-mail at fengh@nays.org